A year has passed since hurricane Katrina hit with unprecedented force the Gulf Coast of the US. The people and institutions affected are still recovering from the devastating effects and it seems that it will take some time –maybe years- to return to normality, although things will not probably return to the state of what once was.
University administrators of the affected areas in Louisiana and Mississippi -New Orleans and surrounding areas, in particular- deserve respect and admiration. In the past year they had to face the challenge of a severe crisis, to implement extraordinary financial decisions and to reinvent their institutions. In light of what they have achieved only a year after the calamity, they are excellent examples of successful improvisational management and true leaders. Just after the disaster occurred, universities experienced the exodus of students wandering around searching for alternative places to continue their studies; many professors moved, researchers experienced the disappearance of years of arduous work and many staff members lost their jobs.
A look at major strategic documents published in the websites of universities such as Tulane or Loyola New Orleans, to name but two, show the profound impact that Katrina has had on the life of the institutions and its members. Indeed, the crisis generated in the post-Katrina age is already influencing the mission and the activities of the affected universities. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that "changes in higher education in the area have been dramatic: New Orleans's Delgado Community College, for example, has shifted its emphasis from liberal arts to job training, to prepare graduates to rebuild the city. Tulane University underwent an overhaul unprecedented in higher education, eliminating more than 200 faculty positions, cutting more than a dozen doctoral programs and five undergraduate majors, and axing eight athletics teams".
What could institutions do, public and private, to help universities in the areas affected by Katrina? Evidently, the first priority is financial resources and, according to different expert opinions, they are not enough at present. I am surprised, for example, that this past year has been a golden year for fund raising in the US, including business schools, but institutions based in New Orleans have not attracted comparative major gifts. Another way to support the recovery of concerned universities is to increase the number and quality of alliances and joint initiatives with institutions abroad. This is a way where business schools, both US based and foreign, can really help.
I take the opportunity to send my warmest regards to Angelo DeNisi, dean of the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University. Tulane is a key reference of higher education in New Orleans and abroad and is already playing a major role in the recovery of the state. I am sure that Professor DeNisi, optimistic by nature, will continue doing an excellent job and can count with the support of his colleagues.
Some related sites of interest:
Lessons of Katrina by Larry Dignan